A Forgotten Past – Vietnamese Boat People in Singapore

Probably not many Singaporeans remember this history, but there was a Vietnamese refugee camp at 25 Hawkins Road of Sembawang that existed for almost two decades.

In 1975, North Vietnam invaded the south and captured Saigon, reuniting the country under communist rule. It spelt the end of the Vietnam War, but it also meant hundreds of thousands of South Vietnamese fled their homeland as refugees, many of them ventured desperately southwards by sea to other Southeast Asian countries.

Being a small nation with limited space, Singapore was the first country to stop the boat people from entering its coastlines, instead providing the refugees with food, water and fuel and turning them away. The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) cooperated with the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) in the Operation Thunderstorm to carry out this task.

Other Southeast Asian countries such as Thailand and Malaysia soon followed suit. Sadly, many refugee boats capsized or were attacked by pirates as a result. Thousands died in the open sea.

Between 1975 and 1979, nearly 5000 Vietnamese refugees landed in Singapore through commercial ships, who picked them up in the open seas.

Using the site of a former British army barrack at Sembawang’s Hawkins Road, the Vietnamese Refugee Camp was set up some time in 1978 in order to accommodate these refugees. However, at any point of time, the camp did not house more than 150 refugees as the refugees were quickly sent away to other countries who were willing to accept them.

Hawkins Road Camp was considered one of the better and more humane refugee camps in the region, where horrific stories about the treatment of the Vietnamese refugees in camps of other Southeast Asian countries were not uncommon.

By end of June 1996, the camp was officially closed after the last batch of 99 boat people, living here since 1990, were voluntarily repatriated to a more politically-stable Vietnam. Hawkins Road, which houses the refugee camp, also ceased to exist after that.

Published: 01 July 2011

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79 Responses to A Forgotten Past – Vietnamese Boat People in Singapore

  1. jo says:

    I was in the spore navy at that time and those refugees that were intercepted before they reached our coast were provided with food and water and towed out and left to the mercy of the sea. looking back i think it was a shameful thing to do, the boats were definately not seaworthly and most of them perished at sea, the lucky ones made it to australia. how many died after we pushed them back into the ocean, nobody will ever know. it was like a death sentense with a very slim chance of clemency. could we have been more humane and given these people shelter until a third country decides to take them? how would you have felt if you were one of them being treated as if your life is almost worthless?

    and by the way, some of the boats which were in better condition were seized by the navy and painted in the navy colours and became part of the fleet. what a joke.

    anyway this sad part of our history, of how we were so cruel to our fellow human beings will never be taught in schools or mentioned in public.

    • yes Jo… sadly not many Singaporeans know this piece of history, perhaps due to a slower flow of information back then
      Singapore certainly could have done more, but we didn’t…
      same thing happened recently to the Rohingya people (Burmese minority) who were dragged out to the open sea by the Thai navy

      • Alfie Cheah says:

        I 1) I have never seen any refugee boat refurbished by the Singapore Navy.Perhaps Jo you could please let us know your designation in the RSN.
        2) I have photographs of me and the countless of refugees (about 1000 families in my stint) at changi airport T1 bidding goodbye to them to countries they were sent to likeUSA, Scandinavia, Europe, Australia, new Zealand.
        3) The Rohingya are not ethnic Burmeses Minority..they are from Bangladesh (in the good old days East Pakistan).They are 100% muslims..would you like to draw a cartoon of PM and give them personally????
        4) The US of A lost 58000 good citizens and any refugee that reached the #25 Hawkins Rd Camp were 99% out of harm’s way..I was one of the volunteers that made sure they were smiled at,entertained till they left via Changi airport.
        5) How can I ever foget the words that every child aged 5- 21 and adults 60+ said before going into transit:”Uncle Alfie, I am going to (country) but my heart will always remain in Vietnam.

      • Dan Vu says:

        Hi Jo, our boat was intercepted by the Singaporean aircraft as we, somehow, we managed to be in the middle of the busy shipping lane. We were not given any supplies (foods or water) by the navy patrol boat and towed out to the open sea. The tow rope was cut when we were far away from any land and the boat was sped away. We were totally lost with little supplies left. Luckily, we were rescued by a British oil tanker, Balder London, two days later and taken back to Singapore camp on Hawkins Road where we received a wonderful welcome & hospitalities from the Singaporean families.

    • catrinchen says:

      Hi jo , i am currently doing a project on the Vietnamese Refugees back then in 1978. Will you be able to share more information about the camp with me? sincerely hope for your reply, My email is catrin@ochrepictures.com

    • Palm Henry says:

      Well, it is very important information from Jo. It is first time I heard the SIN’s navy did a unhumanity action. When I think back to CHOLON, there live a million of Chinese escaped from Mao’s regime in 1920’s- 1930’s. We welcomed them to land of freedom. In 1960 many of them became millionares in Vietnam. Why Chinese were welcome and beeing take care with warming hugs by Vietnamese in south Vietnam, but when their descendants needed help, but they did not want to give thank in return

  2. Jin says:

    The other neighbouring countries just shoot them with machine guns. We were much more humane.

  3. jusdeananas says:

    Thanks for posting this ! Indeed a slice of our history no one cares to talk about very much …

    @Jin: Just because we didn’t murder them on the spot doesn’t mean we were being “humane”. If anything, between a quick bullet to the brain and a lingering death at sea, or drowning, perhaps the first option might have been more humane.

  4. Kat says:

    Yes, it’s sad and inhumane to have turned them away. I am now residing in the USA and my friend who is from Vietnam told me that she was at the refugee camp in Sembawang for about 6 months before coming to the States. During her stay there, she worked in a factory earning $3 a day. But she enjoyed Singapore very much.

    • Alfie Cheah says:

      No refugee was allowed to leave the camp and had to return daily and could only leave the camp with a UNHCR camp pass. And each refugee was given a daily amount of $5 or $10 as adults . Strange!!!!
      God bless,

      • Long Nguyen says:

        You are right but some of us went out to the camp for work to earned more money to send back home. We just got 2,5 Singapore dollar each day. I stayed in the camp in Oct 1981 still 13 Dec 1981 before i moved to the Netherland still now….!!!

      • Michael Swan says:

        Hi Alfie,

        Between 1980-1982 my family left New Zealand for an 18 month “posting” to Singapore. My father was a member of the NZ army and was posted to Singapore as part of his job (he took a small rank demotion to go to Singapore as there were no positions available at that time for army personnel of his rank (not that he held high seniority). I was aged between 8 to 10 years old then.
        We lived on Kloof Road, a dead end street located on the (northbound) righthand side off of Admiralty Road (between Ratus and Rimau Roads). Across Admiralty Rd there was the Hawkins Road Vietnamese Refugee Camp.
        I have vivid memories of the groups of ten to sometimes twenty-odd, mostly adult, refugees that were often seen wandering along the street, sometimes venturing into our yard. I imagine what they were doing was simply a strong urge to leave their camp environment and break the monotony.
        They were friendly, nonthreatening, and never stole any property (unless given to them). One recurring event was their group photography. They would take photos of themselves as a group with anyone from our street who was willing – and of course most of the kids available jumped at it. Occasionally mum or dad would take pictures of them too, and we still have the photos.
        Back then, I understood very little about refugees. My parents were encouraged not to interact with them, though they tolerated them being in our yard, etc. Sometimes, when not dealing with Cobras and grass, our Chinese gardener could be heard yelling at them.
        Is there a reason for the photography? I’d love to know…
        I live in Australia now (since 1984) and am still stunned and appalled at the xenophobia terms like “boat people” and “refugee/s” bring out in many people here…

        M. Swan.

  5. Kaori Ishii says:

    I arrived at Galang Camp, Indonesia and later came to Singapore to the States. Compare with other places, Spore is the most humane. I came back to visit Spore back in 05. It’s hard for Spore to deal with the refugees since Spore had its own problem such as space. Whatever Spore and its citizens did for us we are grateful and I came back to visit Spore just because of this.


  6. Saycheese says:

    I think Singapore regretted turning away those cheap labour then. If they had been termed FT then, Singapore would have overtaken Switzerland. Instead of millions per annum, our misnisters could have been getting tens of millions every month now.

  7. Lye says:

    Hi, I am doing research on the boat people. I heard that there is a small group which stay in Singapore and some at Kembagan and Joo Chiat area. Any one know about this?


    • Steve Turner says:

      I just read your posting, I was at Hawkins Road & Galand from 1979 to 1980 when I was with U.S. Immigration & Naturalization Service. I may have some material you might find useful. My email address is Bubbie18613@yahoo.com

  8. Meredith Kennedy says:

    I was directly involved with the Hawkins Road from the time it was opened until June 1981. The first residents of the camp were from a group who burned their boat so they would not be turned away and most of them were there at least a year. I was first involved as an expat living there when I and two other American women went to the camp to teach English to the refugees and eventually became Director of Education for the camp where volunteers taught several languages and other things necessary for their transition to host countries. I found the Singapore people very supportive of our appeals for educational materials, clothing and other needed articles. Residents were able to go to local shops to purchase food and receive care at hospitals, some doctors volunteering their time for special cases. The government was very supportive, considering the size of the country and large numbers of refugees, of those who came to the camp and even arranged for joint CID investigations of abuses by Malaysian armed forces. There were times when there were many more than 150 residents….one group of over 1000 came in at once having been picked up by a French hospital rescue ship. Hawkins Road, especially the education and relocation training was used as a model for West German and Australian refugee camps as well as the Camp at Galang, Indonesia.I feel that Singaporeans should be proud that their Navy did not commit the abuses that their neighboring countries military did against defenseless people and accepted as many as they did with the limited space available. They did house many until they were accepted by other countries. I have continued to have contact with many of the refugees who have had nothing but good words for their time at Hawkins Road.

    • Lye says:

      Dear Meredith

      I am an orak history specialist and would very much like to find out more about your experiences with the boat people. Could I contact you? My email is ssclye(at)gmail.com.

      Vest regards

      • Liam Tran says:

        Hi Lye
        I was one of those boat people, who was lucky enough to be settled in this camp I from June to September 1985. I am happy to share my experiences if you are still looking to collect more stories.

    • Ben Bedenbaugh says:

      Dear Meredith,
      I am currently doing research on a project for a Sociology class. When I was about 7-8 years old in 1977-79sh, my parents attempted to adopt a girl – who I just found out this evening was in this camp. She stayed with us for a year in the USA before another family eventually adopted her. Although I have not heard from her in about 25 years, I still think about the sister that might have been, It sounds to me like you would have been at this camp at the same time – while I doubt that you would remember her specifically, I do know that she was moved to a Catholic Adoption Agency in Texas around 1976-1977, If you have any information or suggestions on where I could do some more research to find out more about her experiences I would greatly appreciate it. If you contact me, I would be more than happy to share whatever other details my parents might remember, and her name, but for her privacy I will wait to see if I hear from you.

      • Meredith Kennedy says:

        Dear Ben,
        You are correct in assuming that I do not remember the names or details of many of the refugees who were at Hawkins Rd while I was there. There were so many people I worked with there and often only knew by given names only. I was involved in education and some special cases when the UN representative Louise Druke was not available but not in the resettlement process. Your best bet is to try to contact the UN High Commission for Refugees in Geneva or U S Catholic Charities. I understand how easy it was to get very attached to the refugees, especially the children and how sad it is to lose track of them. I wish you luck and you or your parents can contact me at meredithk@charter.net if you feel you need any information I can give you about the camp.

    • Ken Warder says:

      At some point Singapore changed its policy towards refugees , because some of them were living on their boats in Punggol area around 1977 . I was building a boat near this area and even hired a couple of men to help while they were waiting to be repatriated . Seen and heard about many of the tragic events that these people went through in their flight to safety .

    • Alfie Cheah says:

      Dear Meredith,

      Just don’t know how and what made me get on the net at 4 am and now is nearing 5.45am.
      I read the article and just scrolled down and found your.very valuable comments as I was a loner in the camp doodling with the youngest children at the refugee camp.
      I was the one that crazily cycled 777km to Penang to get donations for the refugee camp.
      I had planned to build the playground in the refugee camp.
      I got a “big” sum of S$200 and thought the world about it.
      With $200 in hand I proudly walked into a plant nursery near Newton circus by Bukit Timah road and in that nursery they were selling playground equipment.
      Guess “pride shall have a fall” and for $200 dollars I could hardly buy a single playground equipment. HAHAHAHAHHa!!!
      By then parts of the camp had heard of my plan for the playground. incl the camp administrator..I think the camp administrator was a lady from one of the scandinavian countries.
      Each time I came to camp, they would ask me about the playground and I would tell them I am checking for the purchase of the equipment.(nothing but the truth)
      I used to dread going to the camp, for I knew I had to tell them the truth soooner or later.
      Thank god there was a good turnover at the camp yet there were the familiar faces at the camp.
      With work and the thought of telling them “No playground” I realised I was going to the camp less frequently.
      I used to go to church (I am a catholic) and pray for a miracle which I know only happens to good people so ‘fat’ chance! anyway I kept on praying.
      One day I braved myself and decided, today I shall go to the camp and tell them the truth.
      When I reached the camp on my bicycle (I used to cycle to the refugee camp from tampines where I used to live before.
      Whoa and behold I saw this huge beautiful structure just by the buddhist grotto in front of the camp.
      It seems that some volunteer, I think a canadian, had heard of my venture and she asked her canadian friends at the canadian embassy and they gave (Canadian embassy) $20000 for the playground.
      To top it all, the navy unit by sembawang shipbuilding did the construction if I recall correctly.
      Oh! by the way, I was so worried about my cycle trip to Penang and being my first, I used to train and pray at the same time.
      During my training I came across a magazine, Runner’s World and in that particular mag featured a distance runner named Terry Fox. I still remember that cloudy picture with Terry in the mag.
      What caught my eye was that, he was using a prosthetic leg to run.
      After reading that aricle and a person who can hobble for 3000+miles while my “journey” on bicycle 777km!!!!HAHHAHAHa again!
      Who says it would take a miracle? I say thank god, for there are fireflies, miracles and children…..

      Wish we had met at the refugee camp but thank goodness for the internet.

      Keep well and God bless,


      • Tai Mai says:

        Hi. I was in the camp in 1986 for a week. I don’t remember seeing the playground but thank you for all your effort.


      • Cat says:

        Hi Alfie,
        I don’t know how I stumbled across this page but I am one of the Vietnamese boat people who has stayed at Hawkins Road refugee camp. I am in tears because reading and seeing this brings back so much memories. It has been 35 years since I left the camp but I still remember. I wish I was able to remember more. We were transitioned from Galangal II, Indonnesia. I was there around December 1981 waiting to continue on to the US. I was a little girl 8/9 years old then and remembered only bits and pieces and flashes of my days there. I remembered that there were volunteers who would come and bus the kids to a church and other activities. I also remember that someone took us or bussed a bunch of us to a mall. I have been back to your country a few times and each time, none of my host friends could shed any lights or had any aware of the Vietnamese refugee camp. My family’s experience there was very happy and positive. For those of us who were transitioning from other refugee camps to Singapore, we were on the fortunate and better part of the end destination. What that means was that, singapore was the happy stop before heading off to our permanent host country.
        I am thankful for people like you and those who have shown compassion to us boat people.
        I hope to hear from you. I will be visiting your country this June again.
        Cat lilie88@yahoo.com

    • Alfie Cheah says:

      Dear Meredith,
      There were abuses in the Vietnamese refugee camp in SIngapore and they were sexual by the way. If we quantify abuses then I would say there are none in Singapore’s refugee camp.I used to photograph children and families that were in the Refugee camp and I I still have their negatives of about 2000 individuals or a little more..I remember there were some Khmer refugees too that were travelling via Malaysia….Btw most of the children I befrended were the ones neglected in the camp…and they enjoyed my company though and mine theirs.I used to be at the house for unaccompanied minors(children).It was painted green and later on realised (was told) that there were mutiple raped victims (girls) on their journey from Vietnam.

    • tuan says:

      Hi Meredith my name is Tuan. I was at the camp Oct. Nov. My English teacher name is Jill from New Zealand. I forgot her last name. If you know her . Please contact me . Thanks!

  9. Anna Bui says:

    Dear Meredith
    I am working to create a comprehensive web site which consolidates information about Refugee Camps in SE Asia. The site will be created by and for refugees. We have many stories, and much information, scattered all over the web and the world. I am so happy to see this web site with your post about the camp. Not many Singaporeans know about the refugee camp. The Hawkins road no longer there, can not find in maps.google. I would like to ask permission to use your information on my website and also put a link to this web site.Thank you for speak up.I am arrive to Tengah in 1979 , 529 people on the boat VT 268.
    I would like to hear from you. Thanks
    Anna Bui

    • Jessica Huynh says:

      Hi Anna,

      I’ve been looking for information/photos about refugee camps, particularly Singapore 1980. My family were 10 people, I was 2 years old. We were brought ashore Singapore by a Dutch ship – Smit-Lloyd 14 (my dad never forgot). We were fortunate to be resettled in Australia after 3 months at the refugee camp in Singapore. I’ve been hearing stories from my parents and uncles all my life. Would love to visit your website when you’re done.

      Are you on twitter? Please tweet me when your site is up: @huynher5 I am so happy to have recently found info on the Smit-Lloyd 14, and now the Singapore refugee camp. I wonder if anyone has info on the Captain of the Smit-Lloyd 14 that brought in 186 Vietnamese refugees on june 12, 1980. My family would love to know who this great man was and where he is now…any info on him really.


  10. Paul says:

    Hi Meredith,

    I have a blog at http://www.paulduongwriting.com dedicated to an up and coming book about Vietnamese Refugees experiences. I am wondering wondering if you would like to do a link exchanges?

    • Meredith Kennedy says:

      Hi Paul,
      I don’t know if you are still interested in stories about the Vietnamese Refugees. I had not checked this site for a while because of health and computer problems. While I was working with therefugees at Hawkins Road I wrote a story about discovering that one of my students was deaf and, with the help of other volunteers and other people in Singapore, was able to help him to hear again. A condensed version of the story was published in the UNHCR newspaper and is still used in lectures by the former UNHCR director of the camp at that time. I can relate several of the horrible stories about what happened to the refugees while at sea and in Malaysia. I still have some photos etc from that time. If you are interested you can contact me. I believe that we should continue to put as much information about what so many went through…and accomplished…before the public.

  11. Hoa Van Tran says:

    Between about June 10, 1980 to about August 14, 1980, I was a young boy who stayed at this camp. I have many good memories there. I remember that next to the camp there was a mental hospital. Also I had some chances to go to the market nearby. I definitely will never forget there was a time when a few Indians (Asian Indians not American Indians) passed by the camp and threw American dollars at us. I picked up the first American dollar and I was very happy. Thank you so much for the hospitalilty of the Singaporeans and especially those Indians-Singaporeans.

    • Catherine says:

      Hi Hoa, I visited Hawkins Road camp in 1992 when I was 12 years old with my school. It was part of an Elementary school graduation trip. I remembered us singing for the vietnamese refugees. It was a rare chance for me to mingle with the people who went through so much. There was a chapel in the camp for the refugees. I was glad my school organised the nostalgic trip to Hawkins Road camp. Ever since, I have been thinking fondly of my experience with the refugees. Mind telling me what happened to you after leaving Singapore? How’s life now?

      Catherine Chong

    • Su Nguyen says:

      Hi Hoa, I was there too at the exact time you did, and left for Australia on the 14th August 1980. You didn’t come to Australia did you?

      • Thanh Nguyen. says:

        Hi Su, and Hoa,

        I was there June thru Oct 1980. I am in the US now. Do you by chance know the people by the following names, Mr. Le (Quang or Van) Lan, in the 60s or early 70s years old now ,who was rescued by the Ebalina and resettled to NSW in 1980. Also Ho trong Hiep from central VN, also went to NWS, Australia. My email is winds_storms@yahoo. Many thanks.

  12. othman says:

    I remembered they use to walk all the way in group from Hawkin Road to Woodlands Centre To buy some foods.

    • Ken Tran says:

      Hi Othman,
      Where is Woodlands centre looking out from the refugee camp ? Is it on the right toward Sembawang, or the other way ? Can someone give more description about this place b because the name sounds familiar but I can not recall ? Was it there in the late 70s ?

      • Alfie Cheah says:

        It is on the left hand side about 3km towards the Johore causeway.A no.169 bus (now rerouted ) passes the (Marsiling wet market nearby) to the woodlands ctr.I will be happy to email you pixs of the woodlands ctr and marsiling wet market where the Vietnamese used to do their shopping.Woodlands ctr has not changed since then however it is going to be demolished in about 3 years time..

  13. Kristine Power Diener says:

    I just randomly found this website and have many fond memories of volunteering through the United Nations at the Hawkins Vietnamese Refugee Camp during 1989. I was an expat who moved to Singapore during my husbands employment. Looking for something meaningful to fill my time in my new life there, I discovered the opportunity through the American Women’s Association. Helping these newly arrived boat people during their transition, was one of my most rewarding things I was every able to do in my life. I had an English class in one of the metal military barracks which was so hot. I will always remember the eagerness of these sweet people arriving to my class in their pi’s and flip flops holding their babies. They seemed to feel very fortunate to have landed in Singapore instead of other countries. Many of the families had been separated during their journey. It was heart breaking when a new boat was picked up and the bus arrived. They would rush with anticipation to greet the bus to see if their family member was on that group. I often wonder whatever happened to those I had the chance to know. I don’t remember their names but do have several precious photos of them in my class which I treasure. Near the end of my visits there when I was getting ready to return to the U.S. I took my camera in, took several photos of them all, then made little photo albums of our class for each of them to keep.
    I do remember that during that time the Singaporean government did not advertise what was going on out there. It was rarely in the news when a boat was picked up and of course they did not tell of many times they pushed the boats away. So heartbreaking and inhumane. Also, I remember that all the volunteers who I knew where either Americans, European or Australian not Singaporean.

    With Fond Memories of Remembering Singapore,

    • Alfie Cheah says:

      Dear Christine,
      I was one of the volunteers at the Hawkins Road refugee camps and met the children who never had the chance to attend classes. They were too young and somehow no preschool or kindergarten classes.So instead of (iso) setting up classes I taught them as I played with them outside those classes. I saw the teachers in those classes,. I was so proud of you lot cos I had always wanted to be a teacher but had no teaching credentials.There were singaporean volunteers but almost all of them had ulerior motives. As an accidental volunteer from the outside looking in… some of these “volunteers” thought me valuable lessons on how they exploited vunerable refugees. Now almost 30+ years have passed and I am about to embark on helping Burmeses refugees.The terrible eye opening lessons I learned about “volunteers” and I am quite quite sure I will be a better voluteer to the ethnic Burmese that I will be serving. However you will be amazed at the reilient hearts of these vietnamese refugees and what they did for invaluable people such as you Kristine who helped them.I managed to contact one of the children in the States and what she told me on how they (the little ones) repay the people who helped them while at the refugee camp. It is the way, method and tools they used is to me rather amazing and that is perhaps why all those little children are etched into my heart.I used to be gung ho and always thought I was going to make them happy but in the end I ended up happier. Children are truly gifts.
      God bless,

      • Kristine Power Diener says:

        Dear Alfie,

        Thank you for your quick response. It’s wonderful to connect with you and hear about your times at Hawkins Road. I am assuming you still live in Singapore. Since my departure from Singapore in 1989, I have been living back home in California. I so wish I could have continued to do more volunteer work which was such a rewarding experience. It’s wonderful you are now going to be helping out the Burmese refugees. Where will you be during this time? It sounds like you have touched many souls positively with your kind work you have done. All those children you helped and made happy during the overwhelming hardships they faced. I had no idea of the abuses they experienced at the camp and that is so heartbreaking. Who were the terrible predators who victimized those sweet people? So many stories and hopefully they went on to create happy prosperous lives in other countries.
        I just discovered by Googling; Vietnamese Boat People Hawkins Road, a wonderful group website. There are stories and many photos of residence and their times there. I was so surprised to find a photo of me along with my students. If you take a look, I am the brunette American along with several young men. The 3rd photo in the top row. I was touched that one of them was inquiring what my name was. I did post my information and hope I get a reply. It would be so awesome to find some of my former students from way back then.
        Please tell me more about your Burmese volunteer opportunity, where the camps are and how they are being treated. Your part of the world is lucky to have you there making a difference for these people going through such struggles.
        So good to connect with you.
        God Bless and Be Well,
        Kristine Power Diener

    • Su Nguyen says:

      I was there when the classrooms were being built and attended the first English class. I appreciate all whom had put their life on hold and volunteered their time and energy to prepare us for our new beginnings. I also like to point out that often Singaporeans would stop and give us food and money as we played beside the road. We were never short of food but it was always a great treat and much appreciated

    • Cat says:

      Hi Kristine,
      Somehow i came across this post, it blew me away because I could not believe that this site exists. It feels so real and feels like time has stood still and I am getting a glimpse of the past.
      Thank you for all that you!ve done for boat people like me there. I was a refugee at that camp around December 1981. It was a transition stop for my family from a refugee camp Galang II Indonnesia before heading to Camp Pendleton, CA for our final destination to Massachusetts.
      I was 8/9 years old at that time. I remember being bussed to a church for activities and toys and games but I did not speak or know English to understand more. I did remember that we were treated well. We were also bussed to a mall nearby but with limited allowance $, we could not buy anything.
      Thank you for showing and sharing your compassion. I hope to hear more about your experience there.
      Catherine lilie88@yahoo.com

  14. Alfie Cheah says:

    Dear Kristine,
    I am still residing in S’pore.There was a US senator who actually came to the camp but was turned away by the relevant authorities(both foreign and domestic) cos the people that abused ( was primarily sexual) these vietnamese people were very careful hence they were never caught or just “faded” away when they were caught for political reasons).There are many burmese in the neighbouring countries who are exploited.so I enconter them almost every time I go across johore bahru in Malaysia.I learnt a valuable lesson from the hawkins road camp is that (in fact the vietnames children taught me) that every child faraway from home that they know they may never step foot on again, they are the LOVE of that country as where they are standing. So a kind word or listening to their stories may not seem much to you and me but it is perpetual to them. I never realised it till I used to see the vietnamese children off at changi airport under a large metal carved figurine (terminal 1) the children used to cry buckets and they have that certain hug that is so tight.
    Until today every single child that could speak english (thanks to teachers like you), used to tell me in their tearful goodbyes, “Uncle Alfie I am going to (name of country) but my heart will always be in Vietnam”. It is not what they said that haunted me but the way they said it it made me feel like they were speaking to me from their very souls (till this very day).I used to get some adults to translate as some were very young like 5 years old and everyone of them said the same thing in the same way.
    I still do go back to that same place in Terminal one and say a prayer for all of them souls and their loved ones.I only mentioned Burma, Kristine, but the trafficking of girls as young as 12years/men from burma who work without pay is in all the neighbouring countries. I have started in Malaysia and slowly work my way to Burma.My primary people will be burmese “refugeees”.
    God Bless,
    ps saw your pretty pix at the Hawkins road camp.#

    • Kristine Power Diener says:

      Hello Alfie,
      So good to hear from you.
      I am so touched to hear of your love for these people and your desire to help them. I am sure you have made an impact on many with your kindness and hopes to help them. It is heartbreaking to hear of the abuse that went on at the refugee camp. As if these people had not already been through enough. I wish I was there to help in some way with the Burmese or the poor children caught in the horrible sex trade world.
      I have seen many documentaries on what goes on in throughout South East Asia in the sex trade world. It is so horrible, dangerous and such a mess of red tape. Is Malaysia doing anything to prosecute these criminals or making any attempts to protect and rescue these children? I wish there was something I could do from here in California so, so far away. Is the United Nations involved with these Burmese camps in Malaysia?
      When I was there Mr. Darrel Arnold was the US Ambassador to Singapore. (Unfortunately, he and his wife Shirley were both killed in a tragic auto accident in California many years ago) He actually lived at the Ambassador residence just across the street from me on Grange Road. The first year our family lived at the Colonnade on Grange and then the next year we moved to Beaverton Court on Ulu Pandan by the American School. My precious twin sons attended the American School during our stay there.
      It is so wonderful to connect to you and hear of your special experiences you have had and I’d love to hear more of your work with the Burmese. If you like, you are welcome to google me and join my Facebook page.
      With many blessing to you and fond memories of Singapore,

      • alfie cheah says:

        Heya Kristine,
        This may really be a “small world” if you stayed at the Colonnade. Did you know a person named Judy or Judith Hamery she lived in the Colonnade.I remember inside the Colonnade it felt formless meaning I got lost. She had an eclectus parrot named Patrick as it was a male and green hence Patrick???? The American school is no longer at Ulu Pandan but has moved to Woodlands about 3 km from where I’m at.I just passed by the Hawkins Rd (renamed View Road) this evening. The sex trade is a billion dollar industry so every nook and crany, there will be someone whose hand is in the “pie”.The United Nations/ Red Cross have their hands tied politically. Most of the arrests are for show. In malaysia most of the flesh trade are from Vietnam.Sad to hear about the fromer US ambassador in S’pore.Thanks for the invite to facebook. In malaysia where I am nearby just across the border of S’pore there is a mixture of “over stayers” and the govt is rather humane and sympathetic and hardly arrest them be it vietnamese/thai/khmer/ laotian/indonesian/rohynga + burmese;so long as they do not commit any sort of crime they are allowed to live freely.In public transport, or out lying areas in towns in Malysia they can be seen.Eg.The other day I strayed into a rubber plantation and the rubber tapper was an overstayer from Indonesia and was in my opinion living in abject poverty…He was tapping rubber from 5am till 7am. At 1pm in the afternoon there were mosquitoes all about us biting, and he shared a mosquito coil that was around his waist and told me to stay close to him for the effect.He was sharing the area he lived – with sets of wild boars that frequented the rubber estate at night.I tried tapping rubber, was not that difficult but the next time I see a car tyre I will remember where it started from.Adject poverty is something I am trying to come to terms with as they are almost here there and everywhere all I have to do is stray away and there it is.The poverty in neighbouring malaysia is physical but in singapore it is mainly mental.
        God bless,
        ps just read the comments left by Thuy on this page…I remember I saw some of the vietnamese cutting their long hair..now I know cos they never told me that they were selling it for money.If I had known I would have given them the money and I used to always tell them they looked pretty with long hair and they used to say it was hot so cut.##

      • Kristine Power Diener says:

        Good Morning Alfie,

        Unfortunately, I do not remember your friend at the Colonnade. I met so many people in my time there and it’s been so many years now. I am so sorry, I do not remember. The Colonnade was such an austere place to live. So white, so elegant but so cold. I so remember the terrible echo which bounce off our huge walls. It was so bad it was sometimes hard to have a conversation. Near lots of attractions like Orchard Road and the Tanglin Pasar Malam which I loved going to eat, shop and watch the Chinese Opera. I preferred living up by Ullu Pandan and the American School so my children were closer to their activities. I also loved to shop at Holland Village and Lorong Mongbong. Probably the thing I miss the most would be the amazing food at Westlake Eating house, and East Coast Parkway or just about anywhere we’d go.
        I have been searching the web for more information about the sex trade industry in Singapore and I must say I am shocked that a country which is so prosperous and boosts of it’s “clean image” has not done more to crack down on the horrible people who back that world. Singapore does not allow Playboy or Penthouse Magazine in it’s country, has fines for not flushing toilets, chewing gum and other crazy things along with extremely harsh punishment (barbaric cannings) for over staying a visa, drug possession and “outraging someone’s modesty”. The government has such a tight leash on everyone there but has not effectively dealt with this huge human rights issue for the safety and lives of these poor children. Also, they have do the minimum to protect the foreign workers (I am talking about mostly the Philippino Amahs) by not enforcing employers to let the girls hold their own passports. This is just the beginning of these poor people falling into a slavery type situation of abuse and possible sexual exploitation. What’s so unique to Singapore is that it is such a tiny country, an island with excellent control of what comes in and out that they of all countries could make a difference there by cracking down on these human rights issues. Shame on Singapore. I also remember the alarming number of suicides I would read about in the Straits Times. It made quite an impression on me. So many young people jumping to their deaths for failing and exam. So heartbreaking.
        It’s wonderful to hear of your compassion and big heart you have, Alfie. I am sure you have made a big difference in many poor souls lives.
        Did I mention I found my photos???? 30 photos of my sweet students with their endearing smiles. I’d love to share with you once I figure out how to do so. I cannot seem to just post them on this website or the Facebook page.
        Since discovering the Vietnamese Refugee websites, I have now been connected to other refugees which is so touching and wonderful. I love hearing about where they are now and what they have done in their lives.
        Hope you have a wonderful day and look forward to chatting with you again soon.
        Take care,

  15. Thuy says:

    I was a young girl about eleven years old back in the late 70’s early 80’s. I don’t remember much only a couple occasions that stuck in my mind was.. My mom long thick jetted black hair that she has grew for years and when a couple of people came to our camp area one day and asked to buy it from her. I remembered she said no and when they came back another time, she didn’t hesitate to say yes (because we needed the money) so they chopped it right off. I remember I screamed so loud when I saw them pulled out a giant scissors. My mom told me it will grew right back. But that was the last time she had her hair long. Other thing I remember was a group of young Americans that arrived on buses. There were about 15-20 of us kids and each was assigned a young lady to guides us around a theme-park-liked area (I don’t know the name or what place it was??) but it has games, foods and anything we children wishes to get with the money that was given (by a charity) to spent on us. I remember some of us were skeptical to spent any money, for we were told by our parents that it isn’t polite. So I kept shaking my head when (my sweet beautiful young blond hair with blue eyes lady who always held me by my hand for I was too scared to let go of) asked me if I wanted any toy or played any games. I didn’t want her to spent too much money on me (because at the moment I thought she has to pay for everything). Though I remembered I really wanted to play all the games and have some toys too to take with me to show it off to my parents. I later found out and wished that I understood what she’d said. I wished I had something to keep as a souvenir. There were lots of money left that they’d divided equally among all of us kids to take to our parents though. Those were the best moments as a kid I will never forget. The love and kindness that they have shown, gave and care for us kids. If we didn’t know any English to say how grateful we were then. I wished they know now that we were and are very grateful even though thirty plus years has past, but better late then never, I would say from the bottom of our hearts.. THANK YOU ALL!! <3

    God bless you.


    P.S. If anyone remember anything mentioned above or know what I'm talking about or have any pictures to share. I would love to see or hear about it. Thanks! (:

  16. Lam Nguyen says:

    hi kristine, I were one of the refugees there in september 1988 to november 88, I were 13 yrs old, I still remember I were in mrs. Connie Foster class, do u happen to know her, i still have alot memories about her, the last time i heard she lived in Cincinnati Ohio, i love to hear from u, thanks for all the teaching and volunteer work that u and others peole did for our people

    • Kristine Power Diener says:

      Hello Lam,
      It’s great to hear from you. Unfortunately, I did not know your teacher. I wish I had written down the names of all my students. It’s been 23 years now and I just remember faces and how sweet and appreciative all the refugees were. I felt so privileged to think I was of some help to the refugees. It truly was an honor and an experience I treasure. I think after all the refugees went through on their boat journey’s they felt lucky and happy to be in Singapore. Also, Hawkins Road camp seemed to process the refugees through quicker than other camps.
      Where are you living now and what are you doing?
      I hope you have had a happy life.
      Your memories are very historical and you should never forget what your family went through for finding a better life.
      Take care and be well,

  17. Another Vietnamese refugee camp was located at St. John’s Island. The photos show former Minister for Home Affairs Chua Sian Chin visiting the refugees on the island.

  18. lao refugee says:

    Please do writing on Lao people being treated like “dogs” in Thailand camps.
    email me kp5565555@yahoo.com

  19. Lam H. Tran says:

    I was there for 6 months (July85 thru Dec85) at Children’s House. Annabelle Postier was my English teacher. I arrived in the US in Jan86. It was quite a trip, and I will never forget.

    • Duong Hoang Ho says:

      I was there from July 12 -1985 to December 24-1985( was rescue by Hoshing Arrow)
      Please! I love to share the information.

      • Minh Duc Tran says:

        Hi Duong and Ho
        I was also in the Camp from November 9/ 1985 to January 21 (or 22) 1986. I together with 36 other adults and children settled in Denmark since 1986. We 92 persons were rescued by Albert Mærsk ship belonging to the Danish ship container company.
        I am very happy to contact with you two and others who lived there.
        Minh Duc Tran, e-mail: mdt0211@yahoo.dk

  20. LKing says:

    In 1975, I came with a group of children (~100) from Cam Ranh City Christian Orphanage, which was established by U.S. Men and Women of the Chapel of Cam Ranh Airbase. We were out in Singapore waters, hosed down with fresh water and given bread to eat… didn’t know how long we hung out there in the Singapore vicinity. Our Orphanage Director sent a note via patrol officers to U.S. missionaries he knew who fled to Singapore from Vietnam. These missionaries pleaded our case with the Singapore Minster of Defense, arranged for our trip to America, bought clothes and shoes for each kid and staff member… We were allowed in to an island somewhere in Singapore for processing before we went to the States. I wish I knew the exact place where we were. I wish I could remember the specifics more. Can you help? Pictures from our time there (a few days or weeks? in April/May 1975) would be so awesome to have. We were treated very kindly, given shots and other medical care before leaving for the States. There were soldiers there who sang English songs to/with us to cheer us up at a special meal for the children and orphanage staff. I remember in particular the song, “If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands…” I don’t know if the soldiers were U.S. soldiers or Singaporean… They spoke English. Were we at U.S. military camp? Anyway, God was merciful on us all. He proved Himself to be “a father to the fatherless, a defender of widows…” Psalm 68:5 I am truly grateful to be given new life and opportunities in America! I am so sorry to hear about the sad fate of so many of my countrymen! Kingfisher@writeme.com

  21. Donna Nguyen says:

    Hi every Ones!
    wow! it is so good to read about these messages on this web site!!! Me too, I used to stay in that GRATEFUL refugee camp Hawskin Road, Sembawang Singapore. i love that camp and I also love everyone and every thing there, because i have been had a very wonderful time there with my relatives and my fellow Vietnamese refugees and the gratefulness/good hearts of the International Volunteers; Services Men & Women and the Norweigian Teachers. As our 79 people-boat was rescue by the Norweigian Texaco Baltic Ship in 1983. Next month is the 30th year Anniversary that 79 souls of us must always remember. ( The majority people of our boat are living in Norway, and these people had their chances to say thanks to the Norweigians Ship’s Captain and the Screws) Yes I will always remember the good hearts of those Norweigians ship’s screws, and the Singaporeans, the Americans and the Australians as well as the people of the UNCHR. Once again I thank you all for what you have done for us refugees..God bless you all and best of luck to you and your families!!! what a memory and such an unforgetable history!!!!

    • Pat Carew says:

      Donna, do you happen to remember the name of the Norwegian ship that rescued you on the sea? Year was 1984, and Thanh Van Ma was the leader of the VN group whom they rescued. Thanx.


  22. Shirley Dressler says:

    Any of you remember me at the refugee camp at Sembawang? Not sure if it was this camp. A priest, Father O’ Neil used to go there also with me, Shirley Dressler and Annie Ortega were regular visitors to the camp. I made a fantastic Christmas event for the camp of that year. It was around 1975/79 era.

    • Kenneth pham says:

      I do remember the dearest father O’Neil !!! I was in Singapore lately for looking for “brother Simon” (that time in 1981) I hearded he is now priest but I could not contact him by email. How can I visit his church or people who had helped vietnamese kids in May 1981 ?

  23. Pingback: 失落的西贡岛Pulau Saigon – the lost island | 从夜暮到黎明 From dusk to dawn

  24. Stephen says:

    When the governments of Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam fell in 1975, there were students from these countries studying at the Regional English Language Center (RELC) who then became stranded and could not return home. There were at least 13 of them. Does anyone know about this story? I would be very grateful to hear from anyone who knew about these students or who were at RELC anytime from January 1975 to April 1976.

  25. Tri Luu says:

    My name is Tri Thanh Luu. I was also at 25 Hawkins road refugee camp from 8/1989 to 11/1989. Boat #136 rescued by Norweigian Commercial ship named ?Ostresland. I would like to reconnect with other people who came from that camp, especially from my boat. tluupharmd@gmail.com. Thanks

  26. Henry pham says:

    the history of refugees from vietnam, escaped from communist regime should archived in the museum of national. One day one of the refugees or his son becomes a big boss or mighty man, he will return to the camp for reminding and being thankful to Singaporians and its heas of state

  27. Hi there! My name is Xuan Kim Nguyen, 24 years old and daughter of Xuan Phong Nguyen. My dad left Vietnam in a tiny boat with 66 other people. They were rescued on November 5 1980 by a giant ship from the Netherlands (called Nedlloyd Dejima). My dad arrived to a camp in Singapore on November 6 1980. He stayed there for +/- 3 months. I asked him if he remember the name of the camp, but unfortunately he doesn’t. When dad’s talking about his time in Singapore, he’s always smiling and saying it was a blessed he could stay there.

    He has some photos from his time in Singapore. The photos shows a young, healthy boy with an amount of energy. Dad loved to play football (soccer). He told me they were a loud to go outside the camp, but they have to return at some point of the day. But he and his friends were most of the week (Monday till Friday) outside the camp working for extra money. Dad had an older brother (he passed away in 2001), but my uncle always stayed in the camp, he never sneaked out like my father. Dad told me it wasn’t necessary because he earned enough money for the two of them. After 3 months my dad and his brother stepped on the plane to the Netherlands. My dad met my mom (Thi Kim-Ha Nguyen) here and they married in 1986. I have 1 younger brother, David Nguyen.

    I’m telling this story because I’m doing a research about my parent’s refugee time. I’m looking for other Vietnamese people who were on the same boat as my father. I know there is little chance to find someone, but I really want to give it a try! If you recognize anything in this story, or know someone who was on the same boat at my father, please contact me: viviannguyen467[at]msn.com.

    Oh! My dad recently ran into an old friend of him who was in the same boat and later also went to the Netherlands. But they lost the contact after a while. But now they’re working on their friendship again =) His friend (Hien) gave him a short movie (+/- 5 minutes) from their rescue! One of the crew members filmed their rescue! So if you were on the same boat or know someone who was, and are interested in the short movie, I can (trying to) upload the movie for you.

    In the link below you can find some photos from the rescue and from my dad’s stay in Singapore:

    Kind regards,
    Xuan Kim Nguyen

    (Sorry if there are any grammar mistakes ;).

  28. P Green says:

    Singapore has a chance to atone for these historical mistakes. Singapore was more of a one-party state run by a stricter regime then. We are now planning on growing the population by several million, so we have the room (it was a myth that we didn’t have the room in the 1970s). There are many vulnerable people risking their lives sailing to Australia and right by Singapore on their way. We should open our doors, offer them shelter, we are a wealthy country and have a desire to grow the population. Or are we just racists? Most Singaporeans are only a few generations away from being refugees from China – so lets have a heart.

  29. Cathy Phan says:

    Thank you for remembering this part of history. Many don’t know what it’s like I be a refugee. I was a child, 12 years old when I arrived in Singapore, but the memory remains inside me forever. I was so fortunate to have survived and had an amazing life that was giving to me. I know there was so many that wasn’t as lucky. Thank you again for this story

  30. Ben.G says:

    I was involved in Ops Thurnderstorm too in late 70s to early 80s. Witnessed and felt the sufferings of the boat people. I hope all the Vietnamese refugees doing fine now.

    • Muoi Dang says:

      I’d like to send the most sincere thank you for your participation in the Thunderstorm Operation. As one of the Vietnamese boat people who passed through Singapore in May 1975 during our escape, I appreciate the help that we got from concerned individual like youself. I recalled one of the soldiers who we (my family) got to know briefly during our few days on the Sea of Singapore. His name is Johnny Lai, and if there is any way that we could to contact him please let us know.
      Thank you again for all the help and care when we ‘re so desperately needed it!

  31. Qui says:

    my name is Qui Nguyen, I was in Hawkins Road Camp from Christmas Eve, December 24,1978 until Febuary 20, 1979.Our boat was rescued by US ship World Lion.I would like to reconnect with friends at the same with me in camp and prior group especially Vuong thai Hung went to Canada about 2 weeks prior my departure to USA.

  32. My Hanh Lam says:

    Dear Mr Alfie,
    I hardly remember anything from my time as a refugee in Singapore, but I think it was the camp u usually went to… I just remember there was a buddhistic female bodhisattva statue (Guan yin) near the fence, n next to her there was a slide for us children to play. I guess it’s that playground u talked about in ur earlier post… I had a photo of a class w 2-3 female western teachers, but I’ve lost that photo… I think u would recognize the teachers on that photo… I would want to thank all the people involved at the canp for saving our lives, giving us food n clothes, n even toys sometimes… I was only 4-5 yrs old at that time, in the beginning of 1986 I think… My dad n I were sent to Sweden in June 1986, do u have some pictures from that time? Were u the one taking us to the airport? There r so many things I want to know, that I don’t remember… I wish someone could tell me… Would u be that person? :)

  33. Duc Mai says:

    Hi my name is Duc Mai, i was 1 of 48 other picked up by US Navy the USS BUNKERHILL CG-52 in Sept 1989,staying at the camp on Hawkin rd still Nov 1989 and left for the USA where i am now married and have 4 kids.I would like to thanks Singapore and all of the volunteers,teachers,if anybody having any info or photos please contact me thank you

  34. Khanh Cong Dinh says:

    Hi Alfie! Just wondering you have any photos of Vietnamese refugees during Sept 1980. We arrived in Hawkins road in Sept after being rescued by a Norwegian ship named Long Charity.

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